A farewell message from Lisa Howe

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Can you believe, in February 2012, the Board of Directors of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce hired an unemployed college soccer coach with a six-month-old baby as its first full-time Executive Director? For that, I will forever be grateful. 

I remember my first day on the job, the Monday morning after the Super Bowl, sitting on my couch with Wendy’s laptop (because I didn’t have one) drafting emails to members, sharing the press release of my hiring, and getting acquainted with our website and CMS. 

I remember my first Third Thursday Mixer I attended as the Executive Director of the Chamber. There were about 15 people in attendance, and my big call to action was for guests to post their attendance on social media. So far, in 2018, we are averaging 75 people at Brewing up Business. I am not sure that anyone, at that time, understood the potential of the LGBT Chamber and how big of a role we would come to play in the Nashville economy. 

Well, I didn’t. 

In my final weeks, I will be working in our Chamber office alongside another full-time employee, using our two desktops and laser printer (donated by Dell) and two laptops. My goal of finishing strong includes: 

  • Speaking with hundreds of employees from Alliance Bernstein who will be moving from New York after I worked with the Nashville Chamber on Project Stella to help recruit the global financial industries company to move their headquarters, and 2,000 jobs, to Nashville. 
  • Putting the final touches on our 20th Anniversary Celebration Event, which includes a guest list of 200 people and an amazing video tribute to our founders and our future. 
  • Making some final phone calls to Metro Council members to encourage them to vote for Mayor Briley’s proposed $100,000 budget appropriation to minority Chambers. 
  • Leading the design of a full-page ad in the Nashville Business Journal promoting our 13 certified LGBT Business Enterprises and recognizing our Foundation’s first scholarship recipient. 
  • Organizing 3 future events for our new African American Affinity Group. 
  • Following up with donors from the Big Payback and the $20/20 Campaign—that resulted in raising over $25,000 in just three days. 
  • Inviting almost 700 representatives from over 320 member organizations to my final Brewing up Business on July 19th. 
  • Finishing a final report for a $5,000 grant we received from the NGLCC and Wells Fargo last year. 
  • Attending my final meetings for the Minority Business Advisory Council and the Metro Sports Authority Board, to which I was appointed by two different Mayors. 

One of the biggest challenges has been managing the high rate of membership growth, while also being asked and expected to do more with other economic development partners in Nashville. That was not always the case. 

I remember attending one of my first Diversity Discussions. It was clear from the questions and answers from the panelists that diversity was defined, by them, as female and African American. I would attend events like these and follow up with the organizers afterward to ask why there was no discussion about being inclusive of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. 

It did not take long for organizers to start inviting me to participate on panels to address work and employment issues for LGBT people. Well, I had not worked in corporate America, and I had never been out at work in my first career. It was clear to me, after my first panel, I needed to get more educated about the topic. 

Another “aha” moment for me was when I testified in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in front of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. I was peppered with questions, which were more like comments, from one of the conservative commissioners. She was speaking such nonsense that I did not know how to respond. I felt like I was asked to represent our community, and I let people down. 

That experience, along with encouragement from Board members, gave me a new sense of how important it was for me to be knowledgeable, articulate, and able to represent the LGBT community when it came to policy and culture change. 

It is a role I did not seek out, but it quickly became part of my job. I do not take that responsibility lightly, and I continue to work to improve my skills to be a good representative.  I hope that our local LGBT and ally community have been confident in me and trusted me to serve as a spokesperson. It has been a true privilege. 

I have a countless number of volunteers, members, Board members, committee members, and peers to thank for helping me transition into a new career. I appreciate our community being patient with me and providing guidance as I navigated this new territory. I am fortunate to have been surrounded by supportive, talented, smart, passionate, and creative people who have served as mentors, soundboards, a support system, and life changers. 

Wendy and I were married in Nashville. Our daughter was born in Nashville. For me, Nashville has never been Music City or the “It City” or any of our other nicknames. Nashville is the city of people who had no reason to do so but chose to put their arms around me and my family and support us and love us and give us the opportunity to make a new life here.  For that, I will forever be grateful!